Browsing the blog archives for January, 2017.


Does Bannon’s Role at the NSC Require Senate Confirmation?

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Trump Maladministration

A number of bloggers are reporting that Stephen Bannon cannot be appointed to a permanent seat on the National Security Council without Senate confirmation. But so far I haven’t seen this in the mainstream press anywhere.

Here’s the pertinent statute, from the Cornell Law School site — 50 U.S. Code § 3021:

(a) Establishment; presiding officer; functions; composition

There is established a council to be known as the National Security Council (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Council”).

The President of the United States shall preside over meetings of the Council: Provided, That in his absence he may designate a member of the Council to preside in his place.

The function of the Council shall be to advise the President with respect to the integration of domestic, foreign, and military policies relating to the national security so as to enable the military services and the other departments and agencies of the Government to cooperate more effectively in matters involving the national security.

The Council shall be composed of—

(1) the President;

(2) the Vice President;

(3) the Secretary of State;

(4) the Secretary of Defense;

(5) the Secretary of Energy; and

(6) the Secretaries and Under Secretaries of other executive departments and of the military departments, when appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at his pleasure.

Now, that seems to say that anyone appointed to the NSC as a permanent member who is not covered by (1) through (5) requires Senate confirmation. So why is nobody talking about holding a hearing for Bannon’s appointment to the Council?

It might be that someone like the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who apparently used to be a regular member, was not subject to confirmation, so maybe this rule gets waived a lot. But it also seems to me that someone who is, in effect, one of the President’s flunkies (officially, he is Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the un-POTUS, an obvious political role) would not be automatically waived.

Does anyone want to chime in on this?

 

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Shades of Nixon

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Trump Maladministration

This just happened:

President Trump fired his acting attorney general on Monday after she defiantly refused to defend his immigration executive order, accusing the Democratic holdover of trying to obstruct his agenda for political reasons.

Taking action in an escalating crisis for his 10-day-old administration, Mr. Trump declared that Sally Q. Yates had “betrayed” the administration, the White House said in a statement.

The president appointed Dana J. Boente, United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to serve as acting attorney general until Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is confirmed.

Ms. Yates’s decision confronted the president with a stinging challenge to his authority and laid bare a deep divide at the Justice Department, within the diplomatic corps and elsewhere in the government over the wisdom of his order.

And it’s only going to get worse, folks.

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Bannon Sidelines Flynn

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Trump Maladministration

Per Josh Marshall, this New York Times story about Steve Bannon is a multi-layered thing that isn’t so much about Bannon as about the raging pathology that is the Trump Maladministration. Josh writes:

Good news: Flynn is already being sidelined in his role as National Security Advisor. Bad news: he’s being supplanted by Steve Bannon.

Flynn already appears to be in the process of getting wraithed, the fate of nearly all Trump toadies and sycophants.

Per the Times article, Bannon seems to be the one really in charge of the Administration — he’s the new Dick Cheney, apparently. Michael Flynn got on everybody’s nerves and has been reduced to meekly submitting the daily briefs Donald doesn’t read.

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Trump: Laying the Groundwork for Massive Bleepups

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Trump Maladministration

So this happened:

President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum Saturday that removed the nation’s top military and intelligence advisers as regular attendees of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, the interagency forum that deals with policy issues affecting national security.

The executive measure established Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon as a regular attendee, whereas the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence will be allowed to participate only “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”

“This is unusual,” John Bellinger, an adjunct senior fellow in International and National Security Law at the Council on Foreign Relations and former legal adviser to the National Security Council, wrote on Saturday.

“Unusual” is not the word I would have used. But I can’t think of the right word. What’s the word that signifies “Holy shit these people are going to massively screw up the planet?” But that’s not even strong enough.

“In the Bush administration, Karl Rove would not attend NSC meetings,” Bellinger said. “According to former Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, President Bush did not want to appear, especially to the military, to insert domestic politics into national security decision-making.”

With his permanent seat at the NSC meetings, Bannon has been elevated above the director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, who was not offered an open invitation.

“The CIA Director is typically invited to NSC and Principals Committee meetings,” Bellinger said, though he added that President Barack Obama’s list of invitees to such meetings did not include the CIA director.

It had already been reported that Bannon, trust fund brat and felon by proxy son-in-law Jared Kushner, and anagram Reince Priebus comprised an informal “shadow national security council” that “sits atop the Trump transition team’s executive committee and has the final say on national-security personnel appointments.” And the State Department has already been relieved of senior management. So our foreign policy is now firmly in the hands of fools and amateurs, with no grown ups around to spoil the fun.

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Trump Shames America and Puts Us All in Greater Danger

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Middle East, Terrorism, Trump Maladministration

Coward-in-Chief Donald Trump has shamed America and made all of us less safe with his probably unconstitutional ban on certain refugees:

Mr. Trump’s order, enacted with the stroke of a pen on Friday afternoon, suspended entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

The September 11 terrorist attacks were mentioned several times in the order; note that none of the September 11 perpetrators were from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen. They were nearly all from Saudi Arabia; one guy was from the United Arab Emirates.

Oh, wait — Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants excludes countries with ties to his businesses. Never mind.

Now, let’s look at the immediate effect of this ban:

President Trump’s executive order on immigration quickly reverberated through the United States and across the globe on Saturday, slamming the border shut for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Boston, an Iraqi who had worked as an interpreter for the United States Army, and a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio, among countless others.

Around the nation, security officers at major international gateways had new rules to follow. Humanitarian organizations scrambled to cancel long-planned programs, delivering the bad news to families who were about to travel. Refugees who were airborne on flights when the order was signed were detained at airports.

At least one case quickly prompted a legal challenge as lawyers representing two Iraqi refugees held at Kennedy International Airport in New York filed a motion early Saturday seeking to have their clients released. They also filed a motion for class certification, in an effort to represent all refugees and other immigrants who they said were being unlawfully detained at ports of entry.

The  order bans people about to travel here who had already been vetted every which way from Sunday. The order bans people who already had been living in the U.S. on legal green cards who happened to be traveling out of the country when the ban went into effect:

A homeland security spokesman also said on Saturday that green card holders who effectively hold permanent US residency from the seven countries, will be included in the temporary ban.

Ali Abdi, an Iranian with permanent residency in the US, said the measure means he is now in limbo in Dubai. He says he can’t go to Iran because he has been outspoken about human rights violations there, can’t return to the US because of the visa bans, and can’t stay longer in Dubai as his visa will run out.

“I am an Iranian PhD student of anthropology in the US. Doing fieldwork is the defining method of our discipline,” he said. “I left New York on 22 January, two days after he was sworn in.

“Now in Dubai, I’m waiting for the issuance of my visa to enter Afghanistan to carry out the ethnographic research. The language of the racist executive order he just signed is ambiguous, but it is likely to prevent permanent residents like me from returning to the country where I am a student, where I have to defend my thesis.

“Meanwhile, it’s not yet clear whether the consulate of Afghanistan in Dubai would issue the visa I need in order to stay in Kabul for a year, and I cannot stay in Dubai for long or my UAE visa would expire. It’s not wise to go to Iran either,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “This is just one story among thousands.”

This ban was nothing but chest-thumping on Trump’s part. He was even stupid enough to say, out loud, in public, for the record,, that Christian refugees would be prioritized over Muslim refugees.

This was met from an immediate backlash — from Christians.

The announcement was met with immediate backlash from leaders of nearly every Christian denomination, along with those of other faiths. They argue that Trump’s actions do not reflect the teachings of the Bible, nor the traditions of the United States, and they have urged the president to let them get back to work—many of the country’s most prominent refugee resettlement organizations are faith-based.

The extremist right wing of American Christianity supports the ban, and the discrimination, of course, but they’ve already thrown Jesus and the Gospels under the bus to gain political power.

I also predict Trump’s chest-thumping will lead to an increase in violence aimed at Americans, including those serving in our military overseas.

Across the Muslim world, the refrain was resounding: President Trump’s freeze on refugee arrivals and visa requests from seven predominantly Muslim countries will have major diplomatic repercussions, worsen perceptions of Americans and offer a propaganda boost to the terrorist groups Mr. Trump says he is targeting. …

…“We don’t want them here,” Mr. Trump said as he signed the order at the Pentagon. “We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas.”

We don’t want who here? All Muslims? Is this s putting a big, fat “shoot me” sign on all Americans.

But in interviews with dozens of officials, analysts and ordinary citizens across Muslim-majority countries, there was overwhelming agreement that the order issued Friday signaled a provocation: a sign that the American president sees Islam itself as the problem.

“I think this is going to alienate the whole Muslim world,” said Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a lawmaker and former Iraqi national security adviser in Iraq.

“Terrorists can say, ‘See, their aim is not terror but Muslims,’ ” said Ilter Turan, a professor of international relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul.

Even George W. Bush wasn’t this stupid. He was careful to put out all kinds of signals that the U.S. had no enmity toward Islam, just terrorism.

Now, according to some of America’s most experienced veterans of Arab diplomacy, that important distinction has been compromised — and along with it America’s relationship with the very people it is seeking to befriend.

“The Islamic State says it is leading the war against the U.S.,” said Ryan C. Crocker, who served as the United States ambassador to five Muslim countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, between 1990 and 2012. “Now it only has to pump out our press releases to prove that.”

Mr. Trump’s executive order will alienate the pro-Western elites that Americans turn to for help in Muslim countries, Mr. Crocker said. And it broke promises to people who have risked their lives to help American soldiers or diplomats.

“You know, we can be cynical about these things, but values count,” Mr. Crocker said. “This is a core identity of ours that we are repudiating in a very callous fashion. What do we do — get a new inscription on the Statue of Liberty?”

It’s cowardly, I tell you, and it will make us less safe, not more safe.

Speaking of which — I’d heard the Coward-in-Chief had released a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that forgot to mention Jews.  So I went to the Whitehouse.gov website, following a google link, because I wanted to read the statement for myself. OMG — have you been there lately? He’s turned it into a campaign site for his movement/ego.

I was greeted by a popup asking me to join Trump’s movement and make America great again. Clicking past that, I was confronted by a video of Trump’s inauguration. He’s turned the White House website into some ghastly campaign site.

I finally did find the statement on the Holocaust, which did indeed fail to mention Jews. The last paragraph was just odd:

“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

And then the creep goes and signs an order banning Muslim refugees? Christians fleeing persecution must be given priority over Muslims fleeing persecution? This is a degree of self-obliviousness rarely seen on this planet.

Update: The Boston Marathon bombers were from Chechnya. One of the San Bernadino terrorists was from Pakistan, although the other was born in the U.S. of Pakistani parents. Am I missing something? Apparently not:

President Trump’s freeze on immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries cites the potential threat of terrorism. But here’s the twist — it doesn’t include any countries from which radicalized Muslims have actually killed Americans in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2001.

The president’s executive action, which he signed Friday at the Pentagon, applies to these countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Sudan.

Yet no Muslim extremist from any of these places has carried out a fatal attack in the U.S. in more than two decades.

In contrast, here are the countries of origin of radicalized Muslims who carried out deadly attacks in the U.S., beginning on Sept. 11, 2001: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Russia and Pakistan.

The two lists are completely distinct, raising all sorts of questions about the reasoning behind the White House plan.

I doubt “reasoning” was involved at all.

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The Trumpettes: Incompetence on Steroids

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Trump Maladministration

I go out for an afternoon and all hell breaks loose. Today we learned that the entire senior level of management officials at the State Department resigned/were fired yesterday. And  I see that Trump plans to build his wall by making tomatoes unaffordable.

Initial reports were that four senior State Department officials resigned yesterday, but now two of them are saying they were fired. But I’ll come back to that. This is from Josh Rogin at WaPo:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s job running the State Department just got considerably more difficult. The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior foreign service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era.

Tillerson was actually inside the State Department’s headquarters in Foggy Bottom on Wednesday, taking meetings and getting the lay of the land. I reported Wednesday morning that the Trump team was narrowing its search for his No. 2, and that it was looking to replace the State Department’s long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy. Kennedy, who has been in that job for nine years, was actively involved in the transition and was angling to keep that job under Tillerson, three State Department officials told me.

Then suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, Kennedy and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. All are career foreign service officers who have served under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

However, CNN reported this afternoon that these officials were fired. Reading between the lines of the CNN report, it appears these officials are presidential appointees, and as is customary they offered resignations at the beginning of a new administration. The normal thing is for the new Administration to ask the old hands to stay on, either indefinitely or until new people could be appointed. But The Trumpettes informed these officials they were out of a job as of yesterday, which is not the normal procedure. Back to Rogin:

In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired Jan. 20, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. That amounts to a near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing the State Department, its overseas posts and its people.

“It’s the single biggest simultaneous departure of institutional memory that anyone can remember, and that’s incredibly difficult to replicate,” said David Wade, who served as State Department chief of staff under Secretary of State John Kerry. “Department expertise in security, management, administrative and consular positions in particular are very difficult to replicate and particularly difficult to find in the private sector.”

CNN reported,

The firings leave a huge management hole at the State Department, with a combined 150 years of institutional experience among all of the named officials. The second official echoed that the move appeared to be an effort by the new administration to “clean house” among the State Department’s top leadership.

The State Department is now where FEMA was when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Brilliant.

Now, on to the tomatoes

A deep rift opened Thursday between the United States and its southern neighbor as the Trump administration pressed forward with a plan for a giant border wall and insisted that Mexico would pay for it, possibly through a U.S. tax on imports.

President Enrique Peña Nieto on Thursday called off a trip to Washington after restating that Mexico would not finance the wall. Hours later, Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, said the wall could be funded by a 20 percent import tax on goods from Mexico.

Immediately the Dallas Morning News retorted,

The White House floated the idea Thursday of imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports, arguing that would be more than enough to pay for a controversial border wall.

Such a tariff on goods and services would be paid by U.S. consumers and businesses — people buying anything from avocados and tequila to automobiles. Energy companies, big retailers and other major business interests oppose such an import tax, arguing that it would drive up prices in the United States, curb demand, and erode profits.

We import tons of stuff from Mexico, but especially note that Mexico is America’s second biggest supplier of fruits and vegetables. Trump’s Folly could raise the price of food out of sight.

Estimates are that the wall easily could cost $25 billion to build. That money won’t be paid by Mexico. If Trump gets his way, it will be paid by American consumers. #TrumpsFolly

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The Truth About Chicago

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Trump Maladministration

When he is not obsessing about his own glory, Donald Trump has been observed to briefly notice issues other than himself. One of these is violence in Chicago.

The city of Chicago is much beloved by conservatives as an example of why big inner city areas run by Democratic mayors are bad. Chicago’s fabled gun violence not only proves (to wingnuts) that gun control causes more shootings, black-on-black homicides provide them with cover (in their minds) for their raging racism. And, you know, that Democratic mayor doesn’t know how to get people under control.

Blah blah blah.

But never fear; El Comandante Trump thinks this is easily fixable.

President Trump again decried the levels of bloodshed in Chicago during a televised interview this week, saying that the problem could be easily solved without elaborating on what he meant. Trump, in his first major television interview since moving into the White House, said that police and city officials were “not doing the job” and suggested the problem was that they were “being overly political correct.”

Gun violence is the result of too much politeness?

Trump thrust himself back into the discussion of Chicago’s violence — which has spiked recently, as homicides last year reached a two-decade high — with a tweet Tuesday night threatening to “send in the Feds” if city officials were unable to stem the killings.

Leading to this and similar tweets:

Trump’s restraint is admirable. I figured he’d have sent troops into Brooklyn already, just because they don’t like his hair.

Chicago does have a problem with violent crime. Chicago had more homicides in 2016  than did New York City and Los Angeles combined, which is a seriously bad accomplishment.

However, that doesn’t make Chicago the most dangerous city in the U.S. The most dangerous city in the U.S. is St. Louis. According to FBI data for 2014, St. Louis has a homicide rate of just about 50 murdered people per 100,000 people annually. Chicago’s murder rate is considerably lower; 15 homicide victims per 100,000 people annually. Chicago has more homicides than St. Louis because its population is a great deal larger. But this means that you are in much more danger of being murdered in St. Louis than you are in Chicago.

(The 2015 data show Baltimore overtaking St. Louis in murders, I understand, but I haven’t found more recent data in an easily digestible form.)

Other cities in which your odds of being murdered are higher than Chicago’s include Washington, DC (16/100,000), Miami, Florida (19/100,000) and Mike Pence’s Indianapolis, Indiana (15.8/100,000).

Los Angeles has a homicide rate of 6.7 per  100,000 people. And New York City’s homicide rate is about 4 per 100,000 people, among the lowest in the nation for an urban area. Note that both NYC and LA have Democratic mayors and among the nation’s stricter gun control laws, especially NYC.

It would take a closer analysis than I have time to even guess why some cities are so much more violent than others, but one suspects political correctness is not a major factor.

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Trump = Nero? Or Captain Queeg?

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Trump Maladministration

If you saw the video of Sean Spicer’s first presser, you might remember that he spoke of CIA employees enthusiastically cheering and applauding Trump.

Well, it turns out that the ones cheering weren’t CIA employees. According to CBS News, they were staffers from Trump’s campaign. Sean Spicer has denied this, but ABC News is standing by its reporting.

This leads me to a brilliant post by Richard Byrne at Crooked Timber, who reminds us who else used to hire people to cheer him.

Nero’s public appearances as a poet, actor and lyre-player scandalized Rome’s upper-and-middle classes. One imagines they sat in horrified silence or gave polite applause. Indeed, the gates were shut behind the audiences who assembled to hear Nero perform, with no one allowed to leave on pain of death. (Suetonius records that women actually gave birth at Nero concerts.)

Tepid applause wouldn’t do for an emperor so vainglorious. So claques were recruited and deployed to make sure that Nero received sufficient applause. Ancient historians who write about Nero revel in the details of these paid supporters. They were called the “Augustiani,” and offered up a continuous din of praise as the emperor performed. Their leaders were provided with 400,000 sesterces a performance to divvy up among the claque.

Nero is, um, not remembered as a great emperor, you might recall. He was also known for multiple marriages, although he murdered  his wives rather than divorce them.

The Washington Post reports that Spicer’s much-derided press conference did indeed come about because Trump flew into a rage over coverage of his inauguration and would not be appeased. Yesterday he declared his inauguration day “a national day of patriotic devotion.”  How Kim Jong-un of him.

Even the Weekly Standard thinks Trump is being ridiculous.

What’s worrisome is that Spicer wouldn’t have blown his credibility with the national press on Day 2 of the administration unless it was vitally important to Trump.

And if media reports about crowd size are so important to Trump that he’d push Spicer out there to lie for him, then it means that all the tinpot-dictator, authoritarian, characterological tics that people worried about during the campaign are still very much active.

You know who obsessed about crowd size? Fidel Castro. You know who did not? George Washington, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Reagan, Clinton, and every other man to ever serve as president of these United States of America.

Obviously, but again, what’s significant about this is that the old neocon “George W. Bush can do no wrong” crowd, the people who were a major source of “intellectual” cover for the Iraq War, can’t stand Trump. Trump’s plan to destroy press freedom doesn’t have a prayer without the entire right-wing media infrastructure behind him.

And today poor Sean Spicer was sent out to speak to the press again about Trump’s absurd and factually unsupported insistence that he only lost the popular vote because of illegal aliens.

This doesn’t remind me of Nero as much as it reminds me of Captain Queeg and his missing strawberries from The Caine Mutiny.

There also are reports that he is addicted to media reports of himself, and his aides are worried because they can’t get him to break away from the television to do his job.

This is not to say the Trump Maladministration has not been doing some pretty alarming stuff, like ordering communications blackouts in several federal departments, for no apparent reason except to be sure nobody says anything Trump doesn’t like. Again, how Kim Jong-un of him. See also Nancy LeTourneau on “gaslighting.”

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The Most Miserable Man in the World

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Trump Maladministration

I honestly believe that Donald Trump is a deeply unhappy man. It’s been pointed out many times that he doesn’t laugh. He does smile sometimes, but more often he is grimacing.

See this analysis of Trump’s facial expressions. Very often he has a “puckered chin,” which the analyst explains this way:

The presence of this additional facial expression is quite significant because people often pull their chins in when they feel threatened – it’s a way of tensing the chin in anticipation of being symbolically punched in the face. The fact that a puckered chin features in so many of Trump’s zipped smiles suggests that he frequently feels threatened.

Conor Friedersdorf wrote last March that Trump has “an alarming relationship with trivial slights,” and since then we’ve seen so much more evidence of the sucking black hole of neediness in the depths of his soul. He must feel threatened a lot.

It appears to have really have angered him that his big moment — being inaugurated President of the United States — was dissed as not being quite as joyous or well-attended as other inaugurations. He’s like a bridezilla whose wedding was dissed. Of course, you have to have an outsize ego to even attempt to run for POTUS. But any emotionally normal person would have shrugged that off and focused on the job.

People are calling this calculated; he is undermining the credibility of the press in order to be able to establish a totalitarian regime. And there’s probably some truth to that. But it’s not the whole truth. He’s way too obvious and ham-handed about it. I sincerely believe it was important for Trump to believe he is more adored, more popular, more wonderful than Barack Obama, and I don’t doubt that the reports about the underwhelming inaugural turnout enraged him.

Again, this is not an isolated incident. There is a long and well-publicized pattern of his being unable to let go of even petty slights. And this bears a closer look.

Donald Trump, to me, has always been just a character who lived in the margins of popular culture somewhere, and I can’t say I’ve paid much attention to him in the past. But on reflection, it occurred to me that he’s not a man who really fits in anywhere. In spite of his wealth he seems to be only peripheral to New York City’s social elite. And I doubt he’s often if ever been invited to the exclusive soirées on Martha’s Vineyard.

He plays a Captain of Industry on teevee, but is he really part of the multinational corporate elite network? I doubt that, too. I can’t imagine that when Exxon or Nestlé or HSBC need a new high-level executive, that anyone has ever considered Donald Trump even for a second. Before this year, I doubt they’ve taken him all that seriously except as a second-tier businessman who owns hotels and golf resorts they may sometimes frequent. And has he ever mixed with the global elite crowd at Davos? I don’t think so.

And then there’s the intellectual Harvard/Princeton/Yale elite. Um, no.

In spite of being internationally famous as a Rich Guy, then, to the elite of the elite he’s always been the crass, nouveau riche kid from middle-class Queens.

One suspects this bugs him. He so obviously has an incessant craving for respect and even adulation. Frank Bruni wrote last March,

After Donald Trump asked voters at a recent rally to raise their hands heavenward in a pledge of fealty to him, a few commentators frothed at the gesture’s supposed evocation of a Nazi salute.

That wasn’t my take. As much as Trump appalls me, I don’t assign him control over the precise arcs of his supporters’ arms.

I was and am transfixed by something else: the scope and intensity of his hunger for adulation. It’s bottomless, topless, endless, insatiable. He gazed upon a teeming arena of admirers and neither their presence nor their numbers was quite enough.

He ached for an extra exhibition of their ardor. He had to issue a command and revel in their obeisance. I’m surprised only that he didn’t ask them to kneel or genuflect, but that could still come.

He plays to the masses because they cheer him, but it’s telling he is drawing heavily from the ranks of the Vulture Capitalism and Masters of the Universe crowds to fill his cabinet. These are the people he considers his peers, even if many of them kept him at arm’s length in the past. And now he rules them. This should be sweet!

But even after he got everything he could ever possibly want, it’s not enough. He still has no peace. People dissed his inauguration! He needed some love, so he goes to the CIA headquarters to talk to employees. “Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did but I guarantee a big portion because we’re all on the same wavelength,” Trump said. Translation: You love me. I know you love me.  #Sad!

Without ever having paid much attention to government policy, he’s now in charge of it. And he’s going to screw up and piss a lot of people off. His crude attempts to intimidate the press may (I hope) push at least a portion of it to criticize him even more.

His raging neediness can never be satiated, although I predict that he will make frequent rally appearances around the country to get his fix.

Now, here comes the sermon portion. In Buddhist terms Trump is what’s called an asura. This is a Sanskrit word translated as “titan” or “jealous god.” In Buddhist mythology, the asuras lived in a realm of wealth and power, but no matter how privileged they become they are seething with jealousy for what anyone else has. This can be understood as a mental or psychological state.

Iconography shows a massive tree growing out of the asura realm, but its blossoms and fruit are in the deva realm where the superior, not-jealous gods live. This makes the asuras crazy; they are perpetually assaulting the elite deva realm, but they never succeed in getting in.

It’s certainly the case that most high-level politicians and corporate leaders have a lot of asura traits. But you’d have a hard time finding anybody who more openly embodies asura qualities than Donald Trump. And he seems to already have a foot in the next realm, where asuras are reborn: the realm of pretas or hungry ghosts.

Hungry ghosts are miserable creatures with huge, empty stomachs, but they also have tiny mouths and soda-straw necks. Although they are ravenously hungry they cannot eat, and when they do manage to take in food it turns into fire or blood or pus in their mouths. Drug addicts are common modern-day examples of hungry ghosts.

So this is the doom of an asura; they crave more and more and more and cannot be satisfied. The crowds are never big enough; the gold is never bright enough. Even their gourmet food becomes tasteless (rather like the food in Trump Grill, I understand).

Back to Frank Bruni:

Commentators keep marveling at the way he “dominates” or “owns” almost every news cycle, as if what he says and does are all plotted in advance and part of some sophisticated, disciplined political strategy.

But is he executing a plan or surrendering to a jones? Brilliant or just fruitfully pathological? He mints fresh insults to monopolize the spotlight, but that’s most likely a spontaneous reaction to how cold and lonely he becomes whenever it starts to recede. Maybe he’s a multimedia mastermind, maybe just a publicity glutton. There’s a difference.

His media savvy may be more instinctual than calculated, I suspect, in which case he’s likely to make a lot of mistakes now that he’s in a completely new role.

There’s only one measure for Trump: more. More products bearing his brand. More buildings blaring his name. He’s a modern-day Midas, with a vain twist. Everything he touches turns to Trump.

He insists on that. Craves it. No reassurance sustains him for too long; no validation suffices. That would be as true of Trump the president as it is of Trump the candidate, and it would dictate the terms and the tempo of a reign from which this country would not soon recover.

He’s going to make a show of fulfilling his campaign pledges to make life better for those white working-class voters, but because he knows bupkis about government and policy, ultimately he will fail. And while the most hateful and racist among them will stick with him through thick and thin, many others will be disillusioned and stop going to his rallies. And he’s going to be facing a degree of derision and ridicule he has never known before and probably doesn’t expect.

He’s achieved the highest achievement on the planet, and it won’t be enough to make him happy. This is going to be very ugly, and very messy.

(As a side note, didja ever notice that the words miserable and miser share the same root? The Latin miser is an adjective meaning “unhappy, wretched, pitiable, in distress,” Hence, miserable. Miser as a noun for someone who hoards money originated in the 16th century, presumably because such people are unhappy, wretched, pitiable and in distress.)

Update: See also “He’s never going to admit he’s wrong in front of everyone”: President Trump’s aides are worried about his behavior

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Trump Won’t Even Be Able to Fake Doing This Job

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Trump Maladministration

This White House presser happened today, and it is more than disturbing.

I take it Hair Führer is angry that people are dissing his inauguration because of the subdued size of the crowd. Very likely the YUGE demonstrations today really rubbed it in.

So Press Secretary Sean Spicer called in the reporters and, surrounded by blown up photographs of yesterday’s crowd, he argued that Trump’s inauguration WAS TOO the most bigly attended inauguration EVER. Actual quote: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. Period. Both in person and around the globe.” And, of course, it wasn’t.

But it gets worse. Spicer is clearly angry. He is practically sputtering. HOW DARE the press even suggest Trump’s inauguration was not as well attended as other inaugurations! Spicer is also upset because a Time magazine reporter tweeted, erroneously, that Trump had removed the bust of Martin Luther King from the oval office. This was part of a pool report, so it got picked up in a few places before it was corrected.

However, whether Spicer’s clear distress is coming from righteous anger or something else is hard to tell. Maybe he’s angry that he’s being forced to have this ridiculous presser. Or, maybe Spicer is rattled because Dear Leader heaped some blistering verbal abuse on him about allowing the media to get away with actual reporting.

And at the end, he actually issues a threat. The Trump Administration will “hold the press accountable” — his very words — for reports that displease Dear Leader. Whether the penalties will be a stockade or walking on hot coals or something else, we do not yet know.

If Trump is getting this worked up over trivialities like this, a real crisis is going to blow his fuses. I can see him curled up in a fetal position in his gilded bathroom somewhere while Spicer and Ivanka make excuses for him to the media.

Spicer also talks about a brief visit Trump made today to CIA headquarters. That was bizarre, also. There was an open invitation to CIA employees to attend, and the 400 who showed up cheered and clapped a lot. But not everyone was happy. Politico reports:

Standing on hallowed ground at the Langley headquarters, in front of the wall of stars carved into marble to represent each of the 117 CIA agents who have died in service to the country, Trump lashed out at his critics, boasted of his appearances on magazine covers and exaggerated about the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

He also hinted at loosening rules on torture put in place under President Barack Obama, promised to wipe “radical Islamic terrorism… off the face of the earth” and pledged his full backing to the CIA.

“I am so behind you,“ Trump said, adding, “You’re gonna get so much backing. Maybe you’re gonna say, please, don’t give us so much backing, Mr. President, please, we don’t need that much backing.”

However, not everyone was pleased.

“The proper way to do it was wait for [incoming CIA director Mike] Pompeo to get confirmed, to do it on a weekday, to do it for the larger CIA population but to make it private and answer questions,” one former CIA officer said. “This was a waste of time.”

“Former CIA Dir Brennan is deeply saddened and angered at Trump’s despicable display of self-aggrandizement in front of CIA’s Memorial Wall of Agency heroes. Brennan says that Trump should be ashamed of himself,” Brennan’s former deputy chief of staff, Nick Shapiro, said on Twitter.

Talking Points Memo reports also:

It was a strange juxtaposition: a President, standing before the memorial wall at the CIA that honors the lives lost by agency officers as he talked about crowd size and his intelligence. According to the pool report, there were about 400 CIA employees at the agency Saturday. At first, the cheering came from across the crowd, but the pooler noted that as the speech continued, the senior officials in the front grew “subdued.”

“Probably almost everybody in this room voted for me but I will not ask you to raise your hands if you did but I guarantee a big portion because we’re all on the same wavelength,” Trump said.

And, Trump basically just talked about himself.

It seemed at every turn, Trump would pivot to himself. As he talked about his choice to lead the CIA Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Trump noted that he himself was smart.

“I met him and I said, he is so good. Number one in his class at West Point. I know a lot about West Point, and I’m a person that very strongly believes in academics. In fact, every time I say I had an uncle who was a great professor at M.I.T. for 35 years, who did a fantastic job in so many ways,” Trump said. “He was an academic genius, and then they say, there’s Donald Trump, an intellectual, trust me, I’m like a smart person.”

Then, when he talked about wanting to help America win again, he noted how young he felt.

“When I was young and I feel young, I feel like I’m 30, 35, 39, somebody said, ‘Are you young? I said, ‘I think I’m young.’ You know, I was stopping when we were in the final month of the campaign, four stops, five stops, seven stops. Speeches, speeches, in front of 25,000, 35,000 people, 15,000, 19,000, from stop to stop,” Trump said. ” I feel young. When I was young, we were always winning things in this country. Would win with trade. Would win with wars. And at a certain age, I remember hearing from one of my instructors the United States has never lost a war. And then after that, it’s like, we haven’t won anything.”

Who does this? (See TPM for the video.)

George W. Bush didn’t know what he was doing, either, but as the son of a president he understood the protocols. He knew how to go through the motions properly. Trump can’t even do that.

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